A year ago this June, Taliban fighters streamed into the remote town of Chora in southern Afghanistan expecting an easy victory over impoverished villagers. Instead, they met heavy resistance from scores of uniformed Afghan men.
Those so-called Afghan National Auxiliary Police (ANAP), all formerly in the service of local warlords, had received two months of training by Dutch and American soldiers and were now the first line of defense against the Taliban.
Arming tribesmen was a risky idea. True, this sort of tribal initiative had been effective in Iraq. But NATO commanders feared that Afghan loyalties to their warlords ran too deep. NATO was “arming people who were not necessarily in line with the [Afghan] government,” U.S. Brig. Gen. Robert Cone told Wired.com.
So, last month, NATO fired the auxiliary cops and scrapped the tribal strategy, leaving gaping holes in Afghanistan's defenses. The fix? Marines, of course, armed with fingerprint pads, iris scanners and electronic databases.
With these biometric tools, the Marines are planning to recruit new cops who have no ties to tribal warlords. “We know there are some shadow police and some militia-type police,” Lt. Col. Ray Hall, the Marine commander, said. “Once we go through the vetting process, we'll have everybody screened … so that problem should go away.”
That means scanning every new recruit's unique iris “eye prints,” logging their thumb prints and feeding it all into a growing, but still very spotty, national database linked to criminal and intelligence records. If a cop has any known warlord ties, he's disqualified from serving.
CIA teams used FBI biometrics while hunting for known Al Qaeda operatives in Afghanistan in 2001, and since then, the military has gathered data on almost every Afghan it comes in regular contact with.
There's one more problem. Not all the military databases can talk to one another. “We haven't standardized,” said Larry Schneider, a Northrop Grumman VP who last year was working on collapsing many biometrics systems into just one.
Until everyone is looking at the same data, seditious Afghan cops will probably keep falling through the cracks.
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